'Lost Boy' finds home at KU Edwards Campus
He’s not sure exactly how old he is but he celebrates his birthday on Jan. 1 — the day that the United States government gave him when he entered the country on Feb. 2, 2005, as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. Uprooted by his country’s civil war, now he’s earning his bachelor’s degree in law and society at the KU Edwards Campus (KUEC).
How did Alfred Ring end up in the heartland of the United States? His path was full of horrific terrors, unimaginable heartache and a will to survive.
Law & Society — Lessons for Life
Ring is a 30-year-old (according to his U.S. credentials) happily married father of three children — one boy and two girls — living and working in Overland Park, Kansas. During his 15 years in America, he has worked to acclimate to the culture and worked to put himself through college, graduating with an associate degree in business from Johnson County Community College last year. After living an early life of chaos, he is inspired by the lessons of law and order he is learning in his classes at KUEC.
“Coming from a war-torn country, we have a lot of difficulties, and I needed to learn about where they come from and how to handle them instead of fighting,” Ring said. “I want to be able to sit down and discuss the policies of my own society and be able to help people both back home and here where I am living.
Now in his third semester, Ring said he is drawn toward civil law, rather than criminal law.
“I’ve found I like civil law instead of criminal law,” Ring said. “I like hearing the ideas of other students and basing decisions on both sides of the arguments.”
The bachelor’s degree in law and society at KU Edwards Campus is built to give undergraduate students like Ring the knowledge of how law shapes government and the experience they need to begin successful careers in a variety of careers including public administration, policy-making and the justice system. In law and society — and all instruction at KU — advocacy and social justice are a part of the course experience.
Ring said he has really enjoyed learning about law and society from Brandon Davis, an assistant professor in the School of Public Affairs & Administration. Davis said Ring is a dedicated student with a compelling story.
“His experiences add depth to any conversation,” Davis said. “He is what makes America great.”
Taught by another of KU’s world-renowned faculty members, Ring said a class on global ethnicity, race and conflict really hit home for him.
“I very much enjoyed working with Alfred and will look forward to seeing how his future career unfolds,” said Pamela Rooks, a sociology lecturer.
Ring is determined to finish his bachelor’s degree and eventually earn a law degree. As Ring continues his education, he said he is faced with the same challenges many KUEC students face — balancing work, family and college. Working two jobs to support his family, Ring attends college part-time. He also earns enough to send money back to his newly located family in Sudan to help them with food and medications. Ring said he would give other students who are juggling work, family and college the same advice he used for himself.
“Take time to sit down and think about who you are and what you want to do and the situation that you are in,” he said. “Don’t take whatever the situation is personally. Instead, figure out who you want to be and make a plan for how you want to get there.”
Immediately prior to coming to the U.S., Ring worked as a carpenter and had no formal education.
Ring said if he can do it, anyone can.
The Journey of Ring & the Lost Boys of Sudan
As a young boy of maybe 5 or 6, Ring and his family were forced out of their southern Sudan village home by their government’s militia during the Second Sudanese Civil War. In total, about 2 million people were killed and another 4 million displaced, many repeatedly. Some of these, like Ring, survived, but under horrific circumstances.
“When the militia attacked, we all fled to another nearby village,” Ring said. “We ran away in different directions. I was scared and I didn’t know what I was doing. A lot of people were getting killed, people were shooting, they burned down the village. I was running for my life.”
Ring, like other orphaned children from South Sudan, walked for three months — a distance of almost 1,000 miles — to Ethiopia to find safety. In that war-laden country, more children lost their lives to crossfire, famine, disease and the natural dangers of traveling. And in 1991, when the Ethopian government was overthrown, Ring returned to South Sudan.
Still not able to find his family, Ring, now in his early teens, and other boys like him, were rescued by the United Nations and moved to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. Clost to 10,000 boys, between the ages of eight and 18, eventually made it to the camp where they, and Ring, lived in mud huts for the next eight years under the care of United Nations relief organizations.
“I was a little bit safer [at the refugee camp] because the United Nations was helping to take care of us,” Ring said. “The food that we had to eat in the camp was still not adequate but it was better than what I had in the village.”
During his time there, Ring took part in education programs and learned to be a carpenter to earn money that supplemented his relief rations. He met and married his wife and they had three children while living in the camp.
When the United Nations determined some of the boys at the camp were not going to be reunited with their families, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) recommended approximately 3,600 of them for resettlement in the United States and the U.S. State Department concurred.
The Lost Boys of Sudan began arriving across the U.S. in the fall of 2000. Ring came to Kansas to join a cousin who had previously been relocated to Overland Park. He lived there for a few months until he could find a job and support himself in his own place. However, the program would not allow him to bring his wife or children. After constant struggles, 11 years later, they would join him in Kansas — his wife in 2014 and his three children the next year.
“I had to sit down, decide what I wanted and then see what I need to do to make it happen,” Ring said about reuniting his family. “a lot of people supported me. My counselor at JCCC supported me. I had to work extra to pay a lawyer. We had to do DNA tests to prove the kids were mine.”
After he worked to unify his family, he turned his attention to finding his mother, father and siblings he left back in the village when he was a boy.
“I hired someone to find my family back in Sudan,” he said. “They found them still in a small, remote village in south Sudan.”
Ring now sends some of the money he earns to the nearest town each month. He said he feels proud of what he has accomplished since he was a little boy running for his life. And he doesn’t mind being labeled as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan or sharing his story.
“It gives me encouragement to know that people know about and understand our situation,” he said. “It is very unique. We are isolated from the rest of the world. We don’t have anything — no education, no medicine or vitamins. It’s good to put our history out there and see why this happens to these people and what people could do to make it better.”
A quote in the walls of KU Edwards Campus struck a chord with Ring when he entered campus for the first time:
“Those who come first welcome those who come after,” he remembered reading. “I just thought it was wonderful. It appealed to my thinking. I am happy to welcome those who come after me to get an education and make lives better.”
Find out more about the versatile undergraduate degree in law and society at KU Edwards Campus.